I’m from Cleveland, and I can’t believe I never heard this story until a couple years ago as I was researching haunted locations to visit in Los Angeles. I was looking at information on The Black Dahlia and how detectives found her body. Then I read that there are links between The Black Dahlia murderer in Los Angeles and the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run in Cleveland. Both cases unsolved, some believe the murderer to be the same man. I’ll post another blog about The Black Dahlia specifically (because I did visit her site), but for now, this is the story of Cleveland’s biggest serial killer and the photos I took from different perspectives of the locations where victims’ bodies were found.
Eight bodies are definitely linked to the same killer, two more were assumed to be by the same killer although they weren’t similar to the other victims, and another body, known as Victim Zero, is believed to be the work of the same man. Eliot Ness is considered by some to be “The 13th Victim” because the case drove him to drink and ruin his life, but he didn’t die at the hands of the killer. Although these are the official victims of The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, there may be up to 40 other victims who have been found in Youngstown, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And possibly, The Black Dahlia in Los Angeles.
As much as my heart belongs to Cleveland, it is a dreary city. It’s not much to look at today, but back in the day, it was a popular, busy city. The steel industry was the place to be, and Cleveland was on the rise economically. Apparently, Cleveland had a lot of mob activity in the 1930’s, because after Eliot Ness took down Al Capone in Chicago (if you’ve never seen The Untouchables, add it to your queue now!), he took a job as Public Safety Director in Cleveland to fight the uprising mobsters. Cleveland’s most notorious serial killer proved to be the toughest case that Ness had to face.
Kingsbury Run itself is an old riverbed area where the trains run through Cleveland. The area stretches from The Flats to around East 90th Street. It was popular for homeless camps and crime because many would jump the train to escape back weather in Cleveland. Because Cleveland was a major industrial city, there was a lot of train traffic, making it easy for this killer to travel between cities or to disappear after dumping a victim’s body.
There are a handful of websites and books that will give you a ton of detailed information about this case, but I am going to summarize the facts as best as I can.
In September, 1934, a man found half the body of a young woman in Lake Erie, washed up along the shore of Euclid Beach, just east of Cleveland. Her legs were cut off at the knees, arms and head missing. After more searches, they found more of her parts, but her head was never found. And the woman, said to be in her mid-30’s, was never identified. She became known as The Lady of the Lake. She is also known as “Victim Zero” because she was only unofficially included in the victim count later in the Torso Murder investigation.
This is Euclid Beach. It’s easy to see how a body–or anything–could wash up on shore.
I don’t plant the props. The stuff you see in the photos are exactly as I found them.
Euclid Beach, Cleveland, OH
Euclid Beach, Cleveland, OH – You can see the city skyline faintly in the background.
A year later, a couple teenagers found the body of a 28-year-old man at the bottom of Jackass Hill in the Kingsbury run area. This was close to The Roaring Third, a part of town where drinking, gambling, and prostitution were common. The victim’s head and his man parts were cut off. He was later identified as Edward Andrassy, a bisexual man with a criminal record and who was a regular to The Roaring Third. Was his lifestyle to blame for his murder? Maybe. But police were already off to the wrong start because Andrassy was on several people’s hit lists.
Not far from Andrassy’s body, police found a second male body, also missing his head and man parts. He wasn’t identifiable, but it’s possible that he was a lover or acquaintance of Andrassy.
View of Cleveland from Jackass Hill.
These are shots of where the train runs past Jackass Hill.
There’s still a number of things hiding at the bottom of Jackass Hill.
The freeway wasn’t there at the time of the Torso Murders.
The very bottom of Jackass Hill, Kingsbury Run, Cleveland, OH
I like this shot because it has orbs. Granted, they’re obvious sun/lens flare orbs, but orbs nonetheless!
More views from an old closed bridge that goes over the railroad tracks at Jackass Hill.
My dogs go with me on all these adventures, but I couldn’t let them out of the car to explore here. There was far too much broken glass and who knows what else all over the ground. But my boy still stands guard from the car!
This is the grave site of Edward Andrassy at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Cuyahoga County. His brother is also on the tombstone, but his brother was not murdered by The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.
After combing the entire cemetery for Andrassy’s tombstone, I needed a break.
In early 1936, a barking dog lead a woman to discover baskets of body parts outside the Hart Manufacturing building in the Kingsbury Run area. The parts were wrapped the same way a butcher would wrap meat. Other parts were found in a nearby lot, and it was determined that the victim was a woman. Like the previous victims, the cause of death was decapitation. Her fingerprints were identifiable, and she turned out to be Florence “Flo” Polillo, a woman who lived near the Roaring Third and worked as a waitress and prostitute. Although Flo had once had a husband and nice life, at the time of her death, she was an alcoholic who was in and out of very abusive relationships. Was the killer one of her boyfriends/clients, or did he just spot her as an easy target?
At this point, police still weren’t putting any of these murders together as having been done by the same killer.
The Hart Manufacturing building is no longer standing, but I took pictures from that area of Kingsbury Run.
It’s really kind of scary to see so many places where someone could still dump a victim. I was nervous during this entire project that I might find an actual body.
I found all kinds of questionable “evidence” in this area. Again, I don’t plant this stuff…
I found short pieces of this same type of rope in more than one location. Some of the victims in this case had rope burns around their wrists.
I wonder what’s in this random trash bag in the middle of a deserted field…
These are shots of the train yard at Kingsbury Run from an abandoned bridge.
Here’s the view of Cleveland from the same abandoned bridge that overlooks the train yard at Kingsbury Run.
In the summer of 1936, another male body was found right outside the Nickel Plate Police Station. The body was intact, with the exception of his head that was found the day before by a couple teenagers. Although the man had many tattoos, he was never identified. The police made a replica of the man’s head and displayed it at The Great Lakes Exposition in hopes he would be identified, but he never was. Because people could travel so easily by hopping the train, some of the victims may have been from out of town. Technology wasn’t as sophisticated then, so it was tough to compare victims with missing people from other cities. The “Death Mask” as the replica is called is now in the Cleveland Police Museum.
The Nickel Plate Police Station is no longer standing, but I did find this faded sign for the Nickel Plate Railroad.
At this point, since this was yet another victim whose cause of death was decapitation, investigators finally started to link all of these murders.
The next month, a girl found the body of a headless man. A couple things were different with this victim. First of all, this was the only body found on Cleveland’s West Side (Cleveland is a very East/West town). Second, there was blood on the ground where his body was found, which means he was probably killed in that spot. The other victims were murdered in one place, and then their bodies were dumped somewhere else. Investigators agreed it was still the work of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run because the decapitation was performed at the same level of expertise.
I don’t have photos of the West Side location because the details weren’t clear enough on exact spot where this body was found.
A couple more months went by before a homeless man found half of a torso as he was trying to hop a train in Kingsbury Run. There was a crowd of onlookers as police sent divers into a nearby sewer to recover the other half of the victim’s torso and her legs. Her head was never found, and she was never identified.
At this point, there were no suspects in the Kingsbury Run murders and none of the clues were turning into solid leads. The people of Cleveland were freaking out, the newspapers were reporting on the topic almost daily, and the pressure was on the local authorities to bring an end to the killing spree. The media even gave the killer his nickname: The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. The poor people of the Kingsbury area quit leaving their homes, and the large dog population increased. This is when Eliot Ness became more involved, and they even put people on the case full time. According to the Cleveland Police Museum, the department had interviewed more than 5,000 people about this case. The paranoid residents were giving the police thousands of tips about every crazy person they knew.
There was one potential suspect that came up. A woman went to police to say she knew that Jack Wilson killed Florence Polillo. Wilson was a local butcher, known to be a sodomist (sodomy has been something in common with some of the victims), and he often carried around his large butcher knife. Coincidentally, Jack Wilson was also a suspect in the Black Dahlia case in Los Angeles, but I’ll get to that more later.
In February 1937, part of another woman’s body was found washed up on the Lake Erie shore at Euclid Beach. Note, these bodies weren’t necessarily dumped in Lake Erie. They likely washed out into the lake from the Cuyahoga River, which flows through Kingsbury Run and dumps into Lake Erie in The Flats. Given the time of year, a victim’s body could be frozen for months during the winter and wash up after the ice thaws. It took a couple months for more of this victim’s body parts to wash up on the shore, but she was still never identified. Although she was decapitated, her cause of death is unknown because the coroner declared that her head was removed after she was already dead.
That summer, a teenager found a skull under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. Not far away was a bag of the rest of the victims bones. They were wrapped in newspaper from a year earlier. Police used dental records to unofficially identify this victim as Rose Wallace, a local black woman.
Here are photos of various areas under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge:
I took this as a sign that I was in the right place.
The Lorain-Carnegie Bridge crosses over the train bridge that runs through this area.
Here’s an abandoned building along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in Kingsbury Run. This was probably a busy company in the 1930’s.
According to a photo on TruTV.com, this is where the remains of Rose Wallace were found under the Lorain Carnegie Bridge. I tried to duplicate a couple of the photos that I found online for this location.
I had to jump the fence to get to the right spots. Barb wire won’t stop me from getting the shot!
View of Cleveland from under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge where the remains of Rose Wallace were found during the investigation of the Cleveland Torso Murders.
More views from under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.
A month later, the Butcher struck again. A security guard working by the West 3rd Street Bridge saw part of a body floating in the Cuyahoga River, just below Kingsbury Run. If you’re keeping tabs, this is #9. You can find a handy victim chart on Wikipedia.
Today there is more than one 3rd Street Bridge. The one over the railroad tracks close to Browns Stadium is not the one where a body was found. However, you will find a homeless camp set up under that bridge. These photos are of the 3rd Street Bridge over the Cuyahoga River.
West 3rd Street Bridge over the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland, OH – And we have the pleasure of another orb in this photo. Is it sun/lens flare, or the ghost of victim #9? You decide…
Here’s more of that rope again. Seriously, is it just a weird coincidence that I found a similar piece of rope at another site, too?
I can see how floating body parts can wash up along the edges of the Cuyahoga River.
Up to this point, police had been investigating every lead they had, including every butcher in town and every crazy person in area. One story told on TruTV.com tells about a man who hired prostitutes to strip naked and chop off chicken heads while he masturbated. But not even the crazy chicken man turned out to fit the profile of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. Then the police started to focus on doctors and any man in the medical profession. I hope they kept Chicken Man locked up anyway, because that’s kind of sick…
Then they found a new suspect, Dr. Frank E. Sweeney.
Dr. Sweeney fit the profile almost perfectly. He was a surgeon, so he would have the knowledge and experience to cut up bodies as skillfully as was done. He was a tall, strong man, capable of carrying bodies to the discovery locations. He had grown up in the Kingsbury Run area, and he had his office there at various times. He had a drinking problem—and an anger management problem when he drank—which lead him to lose his wife and kids, as well as his residency at a local hospital. His drinking suspiciously heightened at the time of the discovery of the Lady of the Lake. He also had family history of mental illness. His father spent the last of his years in a hospital for schizophrenia related illness that was worsened by alcoholism. There were also rumors that Sweeney was bi-sexual. But there were two problems with accusing Dr. Sweeney of the torso murders. One is that he was the cousin of a US Congressman, which caused some feather ruffling when Eliot Ness wanted to pursue Sweeney as a suspect. Also, the doctor was known to be out of town, rehabbing at a veterans’ hospital in Sandusky for his alcoholism when some of the bodies were found. (In my opinion, I don’t see why that was an issue, because Sandusky is just on the outskirts of Cleveland, so traveling back and forth would be relatively easy. Investigators later agree.)
In March, 1938, a leg was discovered in a swamp in Sandusky, Ohio (home of Cedar Point! just west of Cleveland). Dr. Sweeney was questioned, and it was noticed that patients weren’t watched very well in the hospital, especially not a surgeon who was there voluntarily. He could very easily come and go without anyone noticing he was ever gone in the first place. There was one witness who claimed that he knew Dr. Sweeney, and that Dr. Sweeney would disappear from the hospital for a couple days and then a body would be found soon after. The witness also claimed that he had met the doctor before at a bar in Cleveland and that the doctor had asked him a series of suspicious questions, like where he was from and if he had family. A smart killer does his research before he chooses a victim. Although Dr. Sweeney was a prime suspect, the leg found in the Sandusky swamp turned out to be from an actual surgery. Um, how does the leg from a hospital surgery end up in a swamp??
The next month, they found another leg in the Cuyahoga River. They found more of this victim in bags another month later. It was a new female victim, but she was never identified.
Pressure was really starting to build up on Eliot Ness to find the killer. But then some time went by and things started to settle. Ness tried to focus on more achievable tasks to clean up the city, like taking down mobsters. Then, just as everyone started to feel safe again…
Two more bodies were found. They were dumped right in the middle of downtown Cleveland, at East 9th Street and Lakeside Avenue….right outside Eliot Ness’s office window! Taunt much? But actually, there’s no proof that these were victims of the same killer. A couple things to note: This was a dump site at the time, so it may be just be coincidence that it was outside City Hall. One body was a fully intact woman. All the other victims were decapitated, and most were dismembered and/or chopped in half. The other body was just the skeletal remains of a man in several pieces around the dump site. It didn’t matter if they were killed by the same man or not, the town believe they were, and they went nuts about it.
East 9th Street and Lakeside, Downtown Cleveland, Ohio.
Standing in the same spot, I took the above photo of the intersection, and then I turned around to get this shot of City Hall. I zoomed past the park area with the huge FREE stamp. I don’t know which window was Ness’s office, but one of them was.
Because of the pressure to find this killer, Eliot Ness decided to invade the shantytowns (the name given to the homeless camps set up along the Kingsbury Run area). He lead police troops through the area, arresting everyone and burning down what little home they had. It was a pretty bold move, and it wasn’t successful. Ness’s reputation–and his life–was going downhill fast.
In 1939, the County Sheriff arrested another suspect, Frank Dolezal, for the murder of Flo Polillo. He lived with Flo at the time and was also linked to Edward Andrassy and Rose Wallace. There is no solid evidence that this brick layer was the killer, but he did confess to the murders. It is believed, though, that the police (the county police, not Ness’s Cleveland force) beat him and forced him to confess to the murders. He hung himself in his cell before his trial.
Ness decided to revisit Dr. Sweeney as a suspect. He tried to set up secret interrogations so Sweeney’s congressman cousin wouldn’t interfere. Dr. Sweeney taunted Ness and the police during his interviews, and he failed lie detector tests, but there still wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of the Cleveland torso murders. Eventually, Dr. Sweeney checked himself into a hospital in Dayton, where he supposedly stayed until his death in 1964. Although the murders stopped after Sweeney was gone, he didn’t stop taunting Eliot Ness. He would send cryptic postcards and say weird things. Ness was 100% certain that Dr. Sweeney was The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.
One postcard received by the Cleveland police was typed and postmarked from Los Angeles. It said, “You can rest easy now as I have moved out to sunny California for the winter.” The writer said he had murdered those people for science, and he gave a location where he buried a head in Los Angeles. They never found anything at that location. But in 1947, they found the body of Elizabeth Short, better known as The Black Dahlia. Her body had been mutilated and chopped in half, similar to the Cleveland torso murders (although with some differences). There were 6 more similar murders that year, which may have been by the same man, or they may have been copycat killings because of the fame around The Black Dahlia murder.
Enter suspect Jack Wilson. The name Jack Wilson comes up in both the Mad Butcher of Kingbury Run and The Black Dahlia cases, but it is unknown if it is the same man or not. Cleveland Jack Wilson was a butcher who often carried his knife with him, and he was known to be into sodomy, which is what may have attracted him to his victims. One woman had come forward to police to say that she believed Jack Wilson has murdered Flo Polillo.
Los Angeles Jack Wilson (also known as Arnold Smith and several other aliases) wasn’t named as a suspect until long after the Black Dahlia murder. I haven’t read John Gilmore’s Severed: The True Story of The Black Dahlia, but I’ve read summaries that say that it was this author who had interviewed Jack Wilson and told the LAPD to consider Wilson as a suspect in 1981. Gilmore uncovered links between Wilson and Elizabeth Short (the real name of The Black Dahlia), as well as Georgette Bauerdorf, a girl who may have been an acquaintance of Short and was also brutally murdered. This Wilson has also supposedly spoken of seeing “The Death Mask” (the face replica that police made of “the tattooed man” in hopes of identifying him) at the Cleveland Expo. Unfortunately, Jack Wilson died in a fire before police were able to question him.
There’s a really great chart here that shows similarities between The Cleveland Torso Murders and The Black Dahlia murder, as well as the murder of Suzanne Degnan in Chicgo. Suzanne was a 16-year-old who was killed and decapitated/dismembered in Chicago in 1946. I haven’t researched Degnan’s story or visited her site, but Chicago is close to Cleveland and travel would be easy between cities via train.
Another theory, and this is the one I’m leaning toward, is that there may have been two killers working together. At least one of the bodies in Cleveland showed signs of expert cutting, as well as some sloppier work. Here’s MY theory: Dr. Sweeney was the main killer. Somehow a teenage boy gets involved with Dr. Sweeney and has similar interests. Dr. Sweeney takes the boy on as “an apprentice”. As the boy got older, he started to travel and kill on his own. He knows of the crazy butcher man Jack Wilson in Cleveland and decides to use that identity when he traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles. Done. Solved. Case Closed.
Was the killer the same guy in Cleveland and Los Angeles? Was it Dr. Sweeney, who could appear and disappear from his rehab hospital? These cases are still unsolved, but you can find all kinds of facts to make your own judgment. Although some files on the Cleveland case have been lost over time, other files have been discovered. You can visit The Cleveland Police Museum for more information check out any of the handful of books that have been published on the topic.
This is Eliot Ness’ grave site at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, OH. To see other photos of Lakeview Cemetery, check out this blog.
Fun fact: And episode of CBS’s Criminal Minds featured The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. The episode is called “Zoe’s Reprise” (original air date 2/18/09) if you want to look it up. I watched it in parts on YouTube. It was about a copycat serial killer in Cleveland. In the show, they found a body in Euclid Creek, which was right behind my house when I lived there.
Movie? I read once that they were making a major film based on this story, and Matt Damon was set to play Eliot Ness. I think I read that in a blog about how they were going to film it in Michigan because of the tax breaks for film making. I don’t know if the information was true or not, but either way, that movie hasn’t happened. You can find some independent films and documentaries about it, though.